Final rookie rankings: A new name at the top

The members of the NFL rookie class of 2018 have finished their first lap as pros.

Their production showed plenty of reasons for optimism, with more than a few glimpses at the brightest of futures.

And while Los Angeles Chargers safety Derwin James held the top spot for much of the season for his remarkably versatile body of work, the final evaluation brought a new No. 1 to close out the year.

These cumulative rankings encompass the entire body of regular-season work from the first week to the last.

So from game analysis and discussions with personnel evaluators and players, here’s a look at the top 10 rookies this season.

Top 10 (stats are Weeks 1-17 combined)

1. LB Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts

Stats: 163 tackles, 7 sacks, 4 FF, 2 INTs

Previous rank: 2

Tackles aren’t always a quality metric these days, but a hard look at the game video shows Leonard’s production can simply be regarded as one of the best rookie seasons in quite some time. He made plays in big moments for a playoff team, including his interception in the regular-season finale to help the Colts into the wild-card round.

2. S Derwin James, Los Angeles Chargers

Stats: 105 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 INTs

Previous rank: 1

This was practically a tie as James, too, was a key piece in a playoff puzzle. The Chargers embraced his versatility, especially when defensive end Joey Bosa missed time with a foot injury in the first half of the season and James was used as a pass-rusher.

3. QB Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns

Stats: 3,725 yards passing, 27 TDs, 63.8 percent completions

Previous ranking: 4

Had Mayfield started all 16 games for the Browns with Freddie Kitchens as the playcaller the entire season -- Mayfield started 13 games and Kitchens called the plays in eight -- Mayfield likely would have finished at No. 1. In the last eight games, Mayfield threw 19 touchdown passes and the Browns went 5-3.

4. RB Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

Stats: 1,307 yards rushing, 91 catches, 15 total TDs

Previous ranking: 5

Some of his work in the passing game was a result of the Giants’ struggles to find any consistency between Eli Manning and the team’s receivers, but Barkley’s production went from a 100-yard rushing game in his first NFL start to another in Week 17. He also did not lose a fumble in 352 touches on offense.

5. LB Bradley Chubb, Denver Broncos

Stats: 60 tackles, 12 sacks, 2 FF

Previous ranking: 3

It is a testament to this year’s collection of rookie defenders that Chubb ranks third best among them here, as there have been plenty of seasons when Chubb’s 12 sacks would have made him the runaway selection as the league’s defensive rookie of the year. (His teammate Von Miller won the award in 2011 with 11.5 sacks.) Chubb’s demeanor, work ethic and approach to the game, along with his obvious physical skills, give him a chance to be one of the league’s best.

6. LB Roquan Smith, Chicago Bears

Stats: 122 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 INT

Previous rank: 6

Smith is an important part of one of just two defenses in the playoff field that surrendered fewer than 300 yards per game. (Baltimore is the other.) He has been a model of consistency and athleticism.

7. LB Leighton Vander Esch, Dallas Cowboys

Stats: 140 tackles, 7 PD, 2 INTs

Previous ranking: 7

Vander Esch left the regular-season finale with a shin injury but still finished with nine tackles in the game. He made 11 starts on the season and played so well that when former Pro Bowl selection Sean Lee returned from injury, the Cowboys felt compelled to keep Vander Esch in the lineup as much as possible.

8. G Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts

Stats: Colts surrendered league-low 18 sacks.

Previous ranking: 9

An offensive line coach in the league said what he liked most about Nelson was his ability to transition and his awareness to move in and out of double-teams to make the right play in pass protection and then one play later simply “obliterate” a defender in the run game. He will be a fixture in front of quarterback Andrew Luck.

9. RB Phillip Lindsay, Denver Broncos

Stats: 1,037 yards rushing, 5.4 yards per carry, 10 total TDs

Previous ranking: 8

Lindsay left the Broncos’ Week 16 loss against the Raiders with a wrist injury that required surgery, and he will now miss a Pro Bowl he deserved to play in. That aside, Lindsay was a revelation for the Broncos as an undrafted rookie who started training camp as the No. 6 running back on the depth chart.

10. CB Denzel Ward, Cleveland Browns

Stats: 53 tackles, 3 INTs, 11 PD

Previous ranking: 10

Ward missed three of the last four games of the season with a concussion but consistently showed the ability to bounce back after the inevitable rough spots for a rookie cornerback and line up with confidence on the next play.

And then there was Lamar

There were five quarterbacks selected in the first round of the 2018 draft, with Lamar Jackson the fifth when the Baltimore Ravens reeled him in with the final pick of the round. Now here he is some eight months later as the lone rookie quarterback in the playoffs, and he will be the youngest rookie quarterback to ever start a postseason game when he lines up across from the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday -- one day before his 22nd birthday. He topped 60 percent completions in just two of his seven starts, but he plays with composure and awareness and has the ability to wreck a good defensive play at any moment with what he can do with the ball in his hands.

Close, but not quite (totals are for 17 weeks)

Ravens QB Lamar Jackson (team went 6-1 in his seven starts); 49ers RT Mike McGlinchey (no holding penalties in 16 starts, just three penalties all season); Bills LB Tremaine Edmunds (121 tackles, 2 INTs, 2 FF); Bengals S Jessie Bates (111 tackles, 3 INTs); Browns RB Nick Chubb (996 yards rushing, 10 total TDs); Panthers CB Donte Jackson (73 tackles, 4 INTs, 1 sack); Texans S Justin Reid (88 tackles, 3 INTs, 1 TD); Packers CB Jaire Alexander (66 tackles, 1 INT, 11 PD); 49ers LB Fred Warner (105 tackles, 1 FF); Falcons WR Calvin Ridley (64 catches, 821 yards, 10 TDs); Steelers S Terrell Edmunds (78 tackles, 4 PD); Bears DT Bilal Nichols (28 tackles, 2 FF, 3 sacks); Ravens T Orlando Brown Jr. (just two holding penalties); Giants DT B.J. Hill (48 tackles, 5.5 sacks); Titans LB Rashaan Evans (53 tackles, 2 TFL); Dolphins S Minkah Fitzpatrick (80 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 TD); Titans LB Harold Landry (37 tackles, 3 TFL, 2.5 sacks).

Kickers need love too

When all was said and done, the Seahawks’ Michael Dickson was one of six punters in the league to have a net average of at least 42 yards this season and was second in the league in gross average (48.3). But the rookie kicker who made the most of the season just might be Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson. Carlson, who was released by the Vikings after two games, was the fourth-most accurate kicker in the league with at least 16 field goal attempts. Carlson went 16-of-17 in 10 games for Oakland and didn’t have a miss in the last eight games.